Excerpt: 'Love Always, Petra' by Petra Nemcova

We went to the umbrella factories and the silk factories and bought presents. We went to see the amazing elephant shows. The elephants play football with their feet, play harmonicas with their trunks, and most incredible of all, they paint pictures on large pieces of paper. The keepers put brushes in their trunks, and the elephants paint with such a concentration -- not all over the place, but very precise. The keepers change the colors, and the elephants make flowers and trees. It is unbelievable, and even more unbelievable, the paper is made from elephant dung. Simon bought two of these specially prepared paintings for his niece and nephew. We fed bananas to the elephants and played with the cute little babies with the spiky hairs on their heads. Of course, we took an elephant ride through the jungle.

Before we left Chiang Mai, Simon and I went to a special temple where monks give out cloth bracelets. The threaded cloth comes in one very long piece; the monks tie an end around your wrist, make a knot, and cut it as they chant a prayer. The bracelet is for protection and once on, must remain until it falls off. Women get the bracelet on the left arm and men on the right, but for some reason, both of ours were put on our right arms. When we got back to our hotel room, Simon said his bracelet was in the way and he was going to switch it to his watch hand. I told him to let it be.

"You're not supposed to undo it. You're not supposed to let it get away from your skin."

"Don't worry, Petra, I'll keep it in close contact with my flesh. It'll be okay."

He kept his arms pressed against each other as he undid the bracelet, slipped it around his left wrist, and quickly knotted it again.

"See?" He smiled, holding up his arm to show me. "Everything's okay."

From Chiang Mai we flew south to Phuket, and from there we drove an hour and a half to the Khao Lak Orchid Resort. Khao Lak is noted for its scuba diving school, and Simon was eager to scuba dive. Recently, I'd had some inner ear problems and couldn't dive, but I wanted Simon to enjoy it. We checked into a front-row bungalow on a beautiful stretch of white-sand beach with palm trees everywhere. The bungalow was a big room with a large bed on one side and a sitting area with a table and chairs on the other. At the entrance was a door to the bathroom. The bathroom had a shuttered window that opened onto the main room. You could open the shutters and look out from the bathroom through the living room window to the ocean. We stayed that night in the bungalow happy to be in paradise together. We spent the next day playing on the beach, where Thai ladies, carrying cooler boxes, walked up and down, crying, "Pineapple, papaya, watermelon, massage." You could get fruits or a massage or both. There is nothing like a Thai massage -- so relaxing. I learned how to give them on my first visit, and though I was good at it, I wanted Simon to experience the real thing.

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